Tag Archives: Dogs!

Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?

IMG_5470During February and March I am a Wissenschaftliche Gäste of sorts at the Universität Kassel’s Tier-Mensch Gesellschaft. I’m doing some research in the dOCUMENTA Archiv, finishing up a chapter in my dissertation, and giving a talk at this first-of-its-kind conference, “Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?“.

The program is incredible and the speakers amazing, each talk as fascinating as the next. There are also several installations and exhibits by Mathias Antlfinger and Ute Hörner and the interspecies collective from CMUK Köln. The program is free and you can register through 25 February through the link above.

I don’t know if I can quite live up to the talents of the other panelists, but I am confident of the attraction, pathos, and intrigue of my animal biographic subject, Russi Marc, whose death exactly 100 years ago this week was noted by his lifelong human companion, Franz Marc, who made many drawings and paintings of Russi through their lives together. Franz Marc himself died just a few weeks later. Studying Russi has taken on a life of its own in my research, and as this was a very well-documented dog and one who had many humorous and thrilling adventures I am very excited to be able to share his story with other animal lovers.

One thing I like so much about animal studies (in discussing the title of our nascent discipline, which is now beginning something like its second wave most of us are happy to jettison the “human-” prefix) is that its adherents are for the most part partisan activists. This challenge to the academy as we fight the losing battle of the Anthropocene and the Sixth Mass Extinction has not gone unnoticed; this week, a sort of prank article was exposed (and one could extrapolate perhaps planted by the same people or person), in the December 2015 issue of the academic journal Totalitarismus und Demokratie. In retrospect, perhaps a “discovery” about the inherited aggression of “German” German Shepherds was too good to be true…but I am very curious to see what the fallout will be, since the “research” depended upon “primary sources” about dogs…another reason to be glad for Russi’s well-established canine celebritude, I guess.

Hund vor der Welt: How a Dog Sees the World

Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

I write about this painting a lot – in fact I once, for quite a long time, devoted my academic research solely to this painting – but I realised I don’t often say anything about it in this space. So here is a little excerpt not from my current chapters but from a side project.

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Franz Marc made an innovative painting – a metaphysical genre portrait of his dog Russi – called Hund vor der Welt in the spring of 1912. The large vertical canvas shows the white hound seated on a hillside, facing the sun and the landscape at an angle across an indeterminate space. We have an account of what Marc had in mind in making this image in particular and Marc’s other thoughts about painting his frequent model.[1] There is also a substantial amount of documentation about Russi, the dog, who, as the artist’s constant companion, was a character who populated the art, photographs, and writing of other people. We even know where Russi was born, how he came as a puppy to live with Marc, and when he died.[2] So despite its slightly whimsical affect, Hund vor der Welt is an image of a real dog about whom much historical information is available. Marc made many paintings in which Russi also appears as a peripheral regular “character;” he leads the way in Im Regen (1912) and leaps after Die gelbe Kuh (1911).

August Macke, who came into frequent contact with Russi and made his own drawings of the dog, prevailed upon Marc to change the name of the painting from the one Marc originally had in mind, So wird mein Hund die Welt sieht.[3] We know from Marc that he wanted to show Russi in thought, so the dog’s seated posture suggests that this is what is happening in the stillness. The strange view of the landscape Russi “sees” is nonetheless completely identifiable as a typical one from around Sindelsdorf where Marc lived. By placing buildings in the recognizable, managed farmlands of Bavaria, Marc suggests that people and animals are part of the same ecology, which, for dogs as the primary animal of domestication, is certainly true.

Russi did not have the life of a working dog, instead, with Marc, dividing his time between Munich, Berlin, and the small towns of Sindelsdorf and Ried. Russi lost part of his tail in 1911, an adjustment to his appearance that is reflected in his 1912 portrait. This shows that Marc had a commitment to showing morphologically accurate details even about the animals he painted, even as the paintings themselves broke with academic naturalism.

Die gelbe Kuh, Franz Marc, 1911 189.2 × 140.52 cm Oil on canvas Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

Die gelbe Kuh,
Franz Marc, 1911
189.2 × 140.52 cm
Oil on canvas
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

 

[1] Franz Marc, Briefe, Schriften und Aufzeichnungen, (Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1989), 11. Observing Russi at this moment, Marc wonders: “Ich möchte mal wissen, was jetzt in dem Hund vorgeht.”

[2] Marc, Briefe, 196-197.

[3] Franz Marc, August Macke, Briefwechsel, (Köln: DuMont, 1964), 124-126.

Sighthounds in the Art of the Ancient World

 

The Townley Greyhounds

The Townley Greyhounds

 

The artistic expression of human relationships with animals has been and remains deeply complex and shifting. From the shaggy predators of the Lascaux Cave paintings to the costumed, hyperreal Weimareiners in the photos of William Wegman, the canine form has been especially popular with artists as both an ad hoc subject and a highbrow icon. A particular type of dog, the Cirneco dell Aetna, or Italian Greyhound, appears quite often in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoying a commonality shared only with cattle and horses.

The Italian Greyhounds, however (as we shall call them henceforth), literally crossed the threshold in the ancient world, entering households not as steeds for work and war or sacrificial offerings, but as companions and objects of beauty.

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The aim of this paper is to point out for consideration some examples of Italian Greyhound imagery from several ancient eras and geographical locations, to describe the history of this breed of dog in relation to its popularity in Greece and Italy, to draw a few conclusions about the dogs’ visual evolution and the reasons for its prevalence, and to show how both the animal and its image continued as both an influence and a viable species beyond the end of the Roman Empire. A starting point is to describe the nature and appearance of the Italian Greyhound, a species which exists fundamentally unchanged from its earliest days.

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Suspiria (!) (2011)

Königsplatz, München

Glyptothek

 

It would be impossible ever to say what the most exciting thing about visiting Munich was since it was all the most exciting thing, but one of the most most exciting things was visiting the Propyläen and Glyptothek “temples” of the Königsplatz featured in Dario Argento’s Suspiria. (The scaffolding behind the Propyläen is at the Lenbachhaus.)

Suspiria just celebrated its 35th anniversary. Here is the spectacular scene in which Daniel (Silvio Bucci) crosses the square with his German Shepherd dog:

David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express) is doing a remake of Suspiria, and of course Argento purists hate this — on its face this film is desperately not in need of a do-over — but Green has said his version will be shot in Munich, and, I mean, George Washington and Pineapple Express are great, so, I’m for it…

 

Van Gogh’s Arles Landscapes

Landscape with Sno

Landscape with Snow

Vincent Van Gogh’s Landscape With Snow (1888) is a bit of an oddity amid the nearly 200 paintings Van Gogh made during his relatively brief (fifteen months) but exceedingly productive sojourn to the outskirts of Arles, France, following his immersion in Parisian café culture. As with the canvas depicting the storm on the shore at Scheveningen, Landscape With Snow seems to have recorded a real weather event, a heavy and rare blizzard that happened just as Van Gogh arrived in what he must have been surprised to find was not a sunny early spring day in the south of France. Of greater interest for my research, however, is the rare appearance of an animal – a dog – in this painting.

The dog and his man are walking away from the viewer, and the painter, on the left side of the raised rut between a slushy dirt road and an adjacent fallow field, also patched with snow and maybe ice, though the cold and precipitation seems not to have discouraged the emergence of a few early bursts of foliage. The sky overhead is the cold grey of a European late afternoon, but the village, not too far distant, offers the shelter of steadfast trees and some inviting-looking structures. Still it is the presence of the dog that lends this canvas a sense of comfort – the man and the dog are just out walking and will soon reach the village – rather than the foreboding and isolation a solitary figure would indicate.

Vojtech Jirat-Wasiutynski describes Van Gogh’s fascination with Arlesian agrarian labor practices (and the impingement upon those practices as evidence by the occasional appearance of modern machinery) in a way that echoes Griselda Pollock’s pieces (supported by an even greater amount of first-source historical data) about Van Gogh and the peasant population around Nuenen. Both scholars more than suggest that Van Gogh was a bit clueless as to the actual monotonous particularities of the type of manual labor required by life on a farm, with or without the assistance of efficiency-making devices. However, while Pollock’s interest in Van Gogh is more or less in envisioning the social practices of capitalism realized in painting with the painter as the generalized fulcrum, Jirat-Wasiutnski concentrates on a favorable understanding of Van Gogh’s intentions. I say intentions because while Jirat-Wasiutnski intuits a good bit of bonhomie from Van Gogh’s visions of companionship with like-minded artists as he imagined existence in Japan and an almost Futurist-like faith in the benefits of embracing modernity, the landscape paintings do not precisely, in many cases, reflect this sense of community and optimism. In fact despite its chilly setting, Landscape With Snow (because of the dog) is much more emotionally vibrant than, for example, the invitingly titled but simultaneously cluttered and barren Orchard With Blossoming Apricot Trees (1988) from just one month later.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox

My favorite Van Gogh painting, period, is Flying Fox (1885) from the Nuenen period. I have always wondered why, after so viscerally animating a creature he could never have seen when it was alive and in its natural environment, Van Gogh’s interest never again turned intensively to the many available creatures of the earth in Nuenen, Paris, and Arles who invited the same types of projections of innocence and typicality as the peasants, fieldhands, and café attendants Van Gogh was so fond of. Franz Marc saw something in Van Gogh’s work that made the German painter immediately embark on his canonical horses. I am still curious and will continue to search for whatever this galvanizing influence is.

See: Vojtech Jirat-Wasiutynski, “A Dutchman in the South of France: Van Gogh’s Romance of Arles,” Van Gogh Museum Journal 2002, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. (78-89)

Toothless in Tampa

Marcie’s Teeth

Marcie recuperating

So for the sake of completeness, here is a story about Marcie Carey and her dental adventures, which actually compare okay to those of her sisters.

Marcie had kind of unfortunate childhood and young adulthood in a puppy mill. Most of the dogs who were recovered with her — 11 of the 16 — died shortly after they were seized by animal services in Georgia. I can only imagine that her taciturn nature is both a result of the horrible experiences she had (three litters of puppies before she was 18 months old among other things) and part of her survival strategy. Marcie is very reserved and quiet — she had lived with me for three years before I ever heard her make a sound — and very loving with cats and people she knows well; I wonder sometimes if she is completely cheerful but she seems content most of the time.

Anyway, like a lot of puppy mill dogs, Marcie has always had terrible teeth. They’ve been extracted one by one over the years, but today, recognizing that all of her canine teeth were practically parrallel to the jawbone and that none of the molars met, the very nice dog dentist Dr. Michael Peak recommended that it was time for total toothlessness. (Also, the spaces around the teeth accumulate bacteria which affect dogs’ health in other ways.)

This is a challenging procedure not just because of the tiny bones of Italian Greyhounds but because their low body fat makes anesthesia tricky. Dr. Peak used only light sedation (isoflurane) with Marcie and some nerve blocking shots around the gumline. And of course Marcie had plenty of dog tranquilizers and painkillers plus subcutaneous and IV fluids.

Also, Marcie is simply much younger — Astra was 16 years old when she had her major extraction and bone graft! — than her sister was undergoing the same procedure.

Naturally I asked to keep the teeth, which you see here, and to have lots of photos.

However I do not think either Marcie nor myself was prepared for embarking on the new adventure of canine cuisine we are now faced with addressing. Marcie already was used to a lot of food — soup, stew, oatmeal, various kinds of cooked vegetables — she just sort of slurped up (not to mention the diet staples of ice cream and yogurt — what can I say?) but if people have ideas about what else a tooth-free IG might subsist on, that would be great.

The excision of Marcie’s tusks are certainly a loss to the world of Italian Greyhound glamour but I think you can see she is going to quickly make a good showing of the “tongue as accessory” thing.

Video Kingpins of Hades Or, No Mercy For Nonsense

Chapter 2

Something very evil had clutched the residence at 704 Howser Street. Something that hung over the little home like a black widow’s veil. Indeed, something hideous. Sure, it had happened before, but not in Astoria. This was spooky.

Inside the home, she could feel the presence of the evil force as it hovered over her. She could feel it. None of the appliances were working properly, the children had taken up the practice of walking through solid walls while chanting “Go Wisconsin!”, and sirens were piercing the air, their source unknown. This was most definitely frightening.

Actually, this evening was not unlike the previous few.

The original texts and drawings from 1987.

The original texts and drawings from 1987.

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Only too clearly came the images of the hamsters in the bathroom, and the sailors in the atticway. She also knew the house still reeked of cheap beer and nachos. The smell was overbearing.

Her mind reeled back a few days as she tried to recall the event that might have triggered all of this, but all she could remember was the fight she had with her husband after he replaced their conventional front door with a paper barrier.

As she thought of the incident, her husband, coincidentally, came crashing through the barrier. The tearing of the paper was loud enough that it could have been a truck driving through the door.

Next came THAT voice.

“Hey! I caught that ball!” He exclaimed.

Immediately she knew that Frostie’s Angels had lost the big ball game. Her husband kept babbling about the outcome of the final play, but when he settled down, he asked her where his supper was. She pointed to the recession of the ceiling/wall above the refrigerator. There he saw a drooping wad of spaghetti, clinging for its survival.

“What’d ya do dat fer?” He asked, pointing his finger at her. There was a brief pause.

“I think we got ghosts.” She said, erupting into tears.

“What have you been smokin’?” he retorted.

With those words, the kitchen floor began crackling and crumbling beneath him. Through the crevice that developed, a little green man burst onto the scene. Was this an alien visitor?

No. It was Gumby.

To be continued…

4 Tesems (bas) et 3 hyènes (haut), origine: tombeau de Ptah Hotep à Saqqara.

Video Kingpins of Hades Or, No Mercy for Nonsense

The First Thilling Chapter

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Astra Carey, 1992-2009

Astra Carey, 31 October 1992-9 January 2009

My darling girl and the love of my life Astra died at 6:30 p.m. 9 January 2009.

She spent her final day being extremely boisterous for her breakfast at 5:30 a.m., being variously sat beside and sat upon by her young sister, Marcie, and taking in as many B-movies as it is possible for a deaf, blind, elderly dog to absorb, all things she did most days for many years.

Astra was an amazing Italian Greyhound. During her long life she climbed the Bridal Veil falls trail and played in the falls’ freezing spray, ran on Miami Beach at sunrise, chased armadillos and wild boars, aspirated a sandspur, consumed an entire bag of dark chocolate, was stung by a bee, dove into an alligator-infested river, and walked thousands of miles with me in all sorts of environments. Astra survived all her adventures and misadventures with good cheer and a hearty appetite. Over the years I said many prayers to Saint Francis and Saint Mary imploring them to watch over and protect this loving, gentle soul and I believe she is receiving a warm welcome in paradise tonight and rejoining her sister, Queequeg, who went first as always a few years ago.

Until arthritis affected her range of motion these final years, the first sound I heard every morning after the alarm clock was Astra’s tail, thumping the bed, ready to greet another day in happiness and with love.

Astra was frequently infatuated with animals of other species, particularly rabbits and cats, and though her affections were often misunderstood she remained steadfast.

I have no other words to express my grief but also my ineffable gratitude at having had so many wonderful years with such a wonderful child.